Roadblock – Spanish Cycle Tourer Stuck in Georgia Shares His Story


Coronavirus has affected the world’s travel plans this year. But what about those who were already on the road? Last week, GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Roberto, a bicycle traveler, to find out how coronavirus affected his journey from Thailand to Spain.

Hi Roberto! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your trip?

I’m from Ardales, a small village in Malaga in the south of Spain. I’ve been living nomadically since March 2016, when I began cycling in South East Asia, not knowing how long my trip would last. I was working in Poland before I left, and have also worked in the UK and done Erasmus in the Czech Republic. I studied Physical Education and Sport Sciences at University.

I was working in an office and in hospitality but I felt quite stuck. I decided on what remains to this day one of the most important decisions in my life; to follow my dreams and start doing what I liked the most: travel!

And since then, traveling has meant everything to me. Martin Luther King once said “I have a dream”. Me too, I thought while climbing that last Tibetan mountain pass. And here I am, making true what I always imagined before. Traveling is not only my passion, but a lifestyle. It allows me to get to know different places and people which were only in my imagination before, and I go deeper into my inner self. It has been a continuous learning process which surprises me every day. I wanted to travel with no restrictions, with no date to return to work, feeling free and following my own pace.

And what inspired you to start cycling?

That’s a hard question. At first, back in 2016, I started backpacking around Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and south Vietnam. I felt I wanted a bit more action and adventure so I decided to try hitchhiking and camping on my way through India. I reached Nepal and did a long trek in the Himalayas.

I had to return to Spain in summer 2017 and decided to completely change the way I was travelling. With no previous experience, knowledge or equipment, I bought a bicycle and all the gear I needed and started bike touring from Bangkok through Asia with the aim of reaching my village in Spain. I wanted to combine sport and traveling, thus cycling seemed the right way to 'discover' the world.

It took a long time to learn more about bicycles and this new way of travelling. My first puncture in Thailand was repaired by a Buddhist monk in a temple where I was hosted (I slept almost 30 nights in different temples).

How did you end up stuck in Georgia?

Well, I’d spent most of the winter ‘hibernating’ in Spain after arriving there at the beginning of December last year, coming from Armenia and 3 months in Iran. I was fleeing from the cold temperatures and expected to be able to cycle right after my arrival to Tbilisi on March 9, being a kind of celebration of my 4th travel-versary.

Things didn’t go as expected at all. Suddenly, when me and my bicycle (who I named Carmela) were ready to set off, the corona situation started to hit worldwide.

I heard from other cycle tourists that they were taken by police and put in quarantine in different places around the country, the government measures to prevent the virus became stricter, and the options to roam freely around the country were not optimistic. So I decided to stay in Tbilisi and see how things would evolve.

What do you think about Georgia?

Unfortunately, I can’t say much yet, as I’ve only been in Tbilisi during this time, but I’m eager to travel around the country to see its incredible Caucasus mountains, villages and meet locals who can teach me more about this beautiful country.

So far I have a good impression despite the difficult moments due to the virus. It wasn’t easy at the beginning of the crisis, especially being a foreigner.

How have you spent your time during lockdown?

I was quite lazy during the first weeks, just waiting to restart my trip as I thought the lockdown wouldn’t last so long due to the few cases registered.

Then, as the government extended the lockdown and implemented a curfew, I moved to a private apartment and started to work on my pictures and social network, things I’m not usually doing while I’m on the road. I also began working out a lot to be ready for the moment when I can cycle again.

Of course, I have also met some friends in this time, but always taking into consideration the rules.

Do you think Georgia handled coronavirus well?

I think Georgia has been one of the countries which has handled the whole situation well, taking into account the small number of cases and deaths to date. When I arrived from Spain at the beginning of March, I saw how strict the rules were. All the workers and officials at the airport were wearing special suits, masks, face screens, gloves, etc. I was a bit surprised as Spain hadn’t begun handling the virus at all yet.

They closed everything fast to reduce the numbers of infected people, which proved to be the right decision. And the curfew… well, to be honest, I didn’t really get the point of this one.

Have you tried any Georgian food?

Quite a lot and it’s delicious! Bakeries here are fantastic with the variety on khachapuris, lobianis, shotis… I can’t get enough of them.

Fortunately, before the lockdown, I also had the chance to try some really tasty dishes such as kharcho soup, kharcho with nuts, lobio, ojakhuri, pkhali, eggplants with nuts (nigvziani badrijani) and of course the infamous khinkali. I'm looking forward to eating local dishes once again!

What are your upcoming plans?

At the moment, I’m cycling once or twice a week around Tbilisi and to other towns on day trips to get used to cycling again. As soon as they lift the curfew and the state of emergency, I will slowly prepare for my departure. I’m planning to cycle around Georgia and get to the mountains and camp every day.

I will do that for a few months as Georgia has a lot to offer, and then see how the situation evolves and if the borders open or not. If so, I will head towards Turkey on my way to Spain, finally!

But if they open other borders, for example to the East, I will head in that direction instead and improvise a new plan day by day. I can’t wait to start again!

If you would like to follow my adventures, join me on Facebook (Tras mis pasos) and Instagram (@Tras_mis_pasos_).

By Amy Jones

28 May 2020 21:05